Helping Kids Fight Cancer

By targeting tumors, not healthy tissue, proton beam therapy helps children with cancer avoid long-term risks of harmful radiation

By Mayo Clinic Staff

"I'm exactly where I want to be," says Stephanie K. Childs, M.D., "at Mayo Clinic helping patients, especially children, fight cancer with the world's most sophisticated proton beam equipment."

During her residency, Stephanie K. Childs, M.D., experienced the power of proton beam therapy firsthand.

"The difference this technology makes in the lives of cancer patients is profound," she says, "especially for children."

Traditional radiation treatments can have strong negative side effects, including memory loss, muscle loss, nausea and vomiting. The effects can be more pronounced in children, who also have a much greater risk of developing secondary cancers caused by radiation.

As a resident, Dr. Childs compared the side effects of proton beam therapy with those of conventional radiation and published results showing proton beam treatment has fewer long-lasting side effects. She'll deliver this expertise to patients when the Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program opens in 2015 in Rochester, Minnesota, and in 2016 in Phoenix.

"I'm exactly where I want to be," says Dr. Childs, "at Mayo Clinic helping patients, especially children, fight cancer with the world's most sophisticated proton beam equipment."

Turning hope into healing

It takes big technology to target cancer with submillimeter accuracy. At the heart of each Mayo Clinic proton beam facility is a synchrotron, which is a particle accelerator that weighs about the same as a tank, is 55 feet in circumference and accelerates protons to nearly two-thirds the speed of light.

When protons reach the exact energy level needed to treat a cancer at a specific location and depth in the body, the synchrotron releases them into a focused beam that races along a guided path to a patient's treatment room. Here the beam of particles passes through healthy tissue to deposit the proton's cancer-killing radiation directly into the tumor.

The protons, smaller than atoms, "paint" the tumor precisely. This precision causes very little, if any, damage to surrounding tissue, especially when compared with traditional radiation treatment, which harms everything in its path.

The Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program will use the most precise form of proton therapy — pencil beam scanning. It is very effective in treating cancer throughout the body and especially beneficial for complex tumors, like those in the brain and eye.

Give now to support the Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program.

Patients benefit from pencil beam scanning because it decreases the number of treatments in select patients, creates fewer side effects and lowers the incidence of recurrent cancer — reducing overall health care costs. This therapy is especially beneficial for children, who are at higher risk of radiation damage because their bones and organs are still developing.

In memory of Betty

"One of the most heart-wrenching things about cancer is standing on the sideline, watching a loved one fight the disease and suffer from the side effects of treatment," says the Rev. Robert Lawrence, who lost his wife, Betty, to cancer.

As a board member of the Oliver S. and Jennie R. Donaldson Charitable Trust, he has helped direct the organization's charitable giving. Over the last 20 years, the trust has focused on fighting cancer, giving more than $1 million toward Mayo Clinic's cancer research.

But three years ago, board members decided to focus on Mayo Clinic's cancer work from a different standpoint and made a philanthropic investment in the Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program.

"Mayo Clinic is always on the cutting edge of health care," Lawrence says. "They offer their patients the best possible treatments. Our support will help patients from all over the world beat their cancers."

The most recent gift from the trust to the Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program is in Betty's memory to help patients win their battles against cancer.

Help Mayo Clinic deploy its latest weapon against cancer. Support proton beam therapy today.